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Stamp of prior censorship
Daoud Kuttab
2014/12/14

The latest round of memos coming from the Jordanian Media Commission increases the concern that the country is moving closer to institutionalizing pre censorship to media even though this is a violation of Jordan’s constitution.

Following the memo banning the publication of any military content without prior approval from the military, the latest move applies to news, articles and comments about the general security. Any content that has anything to do with the security forces in Jordan can’t be published without the Security forces prior approval.

Are we about to witness a domino effect? What is next? Will we get a memo saying that economic news can’t be published without the prior approval of the minister of finance, and  the head of the stock exchange. Will cultural news now be forbidden unless it is approved by the head of guidance and sermons department [at the Islamic waqf ministry] and the head of the Hussein Cultural Center and the representatives of the monotheistic religious or others who are responsible for what we consume in cultural news.

Parliament is also trying to control the media narrative of what happens under their roof, but they appear to be unable to get their way. They seem to be the weakest link of the three branches of government.

As far as the judicial branch is concerned, there is no need for a memo outlying what needs prior censorship. The constitution, the laws and the blind fear of publishing anything about the courts, is enough until this moment to deter the media and there is no need to issue yet another memo from the Media Commission.

The law for the sanctity of the courts number 9 issued in 1959 is sufficient enough to stop anyone who thinks in even asking a question that deals with the courts of judges.

Journalists of course use a number of tricks to bypass these government instituted restrictions. The absence of information- as was the case with the gold rumor in Ajloun – to create chaos that becomes much harder to explain later.

Some try to overcome this problem by convincing members of parliament to reveal a secret in the chamber. The constitution provides ample immunity for hat is said in parliament. One of the members of parliament did consider asking a question to the minister of justice about the reason for the sudden resignation of five judges, but the MP backed off at the last minute after colleagues in parliament ‘advised’ him not to speak in parliament because this would create tensions between the legislative and judicial branch of government.

Others try to circumvent restrictions by leaking news to international or Arab media outlets where publication is not under any restriction. Jordanians are then directed to these foreign or Arab news outlets in order to learn about what is happening in their country. So for example on the resigned judges Arab outlets published reports online and even a local online site published a report temporarily. The local Jordanian site quickly withdrew the news item for fear that they may be blocked while the story stayed on the Arab site which is available in Jordan.

Bypassing such restrictions sometimes requires creativity especially by sarcastic writers who bypass these censors through using symbolism and creative hints.

We are in need of a courageous stand from journalists, intellectuals and other supporters of freedom of expression. Whoever is silent now will be surprised later when these retractions in freedoms will reach areas that they thought are safe and they will find themselves missing the basic righs of expression and press.

At present self censorship is very strong. According to the center for freedom of journalists’ 2014 report 94% of Jordanian journalists have practiced self censorship one way or another. So as long as there is a high percentage of self censorship there is little need to institutionalize an implement prior censorship protocols. But if the current level of official memos continues to come from the Media Commission we will find ourselves soon facing a department of censorship. We will be facing a military/security censors and awaiting from him the stamp of approval for publication or the stamp banning publication.

 لقراءة المقال باللغة العربية 

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